Pittsburgh Pirates: Three Relievers Who Could Be on the Roster Bubble in the Spring

Will these Pirates relief pitchers be in their bullpen to open 2024?
Sep 29, 2023; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA;  Pittsburgh Pirates relief pitcher Kyle Nicolas (62)
Sep 29, 2023; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates relief pitcher Kyle Nicolas (62) / Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
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Kyle Nicolas

The Pirates acquired Kyle Nicolas as part of the Jacob Stallings deal. Nicolas was originally a starting pitching prospect but transitioned to the bullpen in the second half of this past season. Nicolas throws hard with a good slider, and he ended the 2023 campaign on a good note despite a horrendous debut.

In Nicolas’ first game, he allowed six earned runs, walked two, and allowed three hits, including a home run. Nicolas was able to induce just a single out, but after this game, the young right-hander seemed to get things on track. Through his final five innings of the season, he allowed just one earned run, struck out seven, and allowed four hits. None of the hits he allowed left the park either.

Nicolas was also highly effective in the games leading up to his September promotion. In his final 15 innings at Triple-A Indianapolis, Nicolas pitched to a 1.20 ERA, 2.64 FIP, and 0.8 WHIP. Nicolas struck out 41.4% of opponents while allowing just a single home run. Walks, however, were a bit of an issue with a 10.3% walk rate. However, when he’s striking out over 40% of batters faced, a 10.3% walk rate isn’t all that bad.

The right-hander has a big fastball that sits 97 MPH with just a touch over 2400 RPM. He also has a 97% active spin rate, which helps give his four-seamer that rising action illusion. His slider regularly hits 90 MPH and comes in with nearly 2500 RPM. Nicolas occasionally throws a curveball, but it’s by far his least used offering. Per Stuff+, Nicolas threw some of the best offerings for the Pirates this year:

I think Nicolas has a very good chance of starting the year in the Pirate Opening Day bullpen. He’ll probably be given a middle relief role to start the year. But his stuff is so good he could move into a higher leverage role late into the season. If he can play up to his stuff, he might only be surpassed by David Bednar in the bullpen.